I meet on Zoom weekly with a group that is reading Jane Goodall’s The Book of Hope. It recounts the informal conversations held over many days between Ms. Goodall and Douglas Abrams, co-author of The Book of Joy, a record of his conversations with His Holiness the Dali Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“What gives you hope?” came up early in our sessions. The context of the question was the challenge of maintaining hope during the pandemic shutdown as well as now, when a surplus of uncertainty crowds around us even apart from COVID.
Jane’s answer to the question is that four things give her hope: the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people, and the indomitable human spirit (and these are the book’s core chapters). Useful as these answers are, there is another, more personal and practical angle to take on the question. So I began making a list of things that helped me maintain hope then (during the shutdown) and now, moving into 2022.
First, I thought of my wife. She’s a planner (I’m not so much), and that provided structure and some assurance that we knew what was coming next. Even mundane things like what’s for dinner tonight and whether we would bike or do yoga the day after tomorrow. She also is my exercise partner, co-teacher of our adult church school class and a loving supporter. Second, I thought of my church, that group of people that is small enough to know just about everybody’s name but large enough to include plenty of diversity. We are just trying to help each other live our lives as Jesus taught us to live them. Third, there are the international music students at Southern Miss whom we have gotten to know and love. They are incredibly talented and dedicated to their craft; and they make wonderful music in the University Symphony Orchestra. We keep up with them, as we can, when they graduate—one in China, one in Canada, and one in Switzerland.
Fourth I thought of work, e.g., preparing for each Sunday’s meeting of our church school class and writing these columns for The Pine Belt News. Both are hard work, but work I love. Fifth, I named exercise above, but I name it again, because I have noticed, as you probably have, that hope is visceral, not just an emotion. Hope and stamina may be close cousins. Finally, I listed Netflix, to stand for all the various media we explored during the lockdown that provided deeply satisfying diversion from the uncertainty that was all around and that lingers still, e.g., Anne With An “E” and Line of Separation. And on PBS Masterpiece Theatre, The Crown, Grantchester, and All Creatures Great and Small.
If you stand back from my list, which was produced rather spontaneously, you will see that, hope for me seems to depend upon supportive relationships, work, exercise, and imagination. That’s my answer to the question, “What gave (or gives) you hope?” And look at what all I left out. It’s embarrassing--books I read (e.g., Caste by Isabel Wilkerson), regular visits (sometimes only by phone, text, or email) with family members (sons, daughter-in-law, grandson), the Bible, and internet friends such as Fr. Richard Rohr.
The point of all this of course, is to encourage you to make your own list. Don’t struggle to make it complete; write quickly without a lot of reflection. Then later, note (as I did), what you included and what you left out. You may notice that some things omitted from your initial list are the most meaningful. Deeper reflection may surface others. I would love to hear from you.
Then, as I did, try to generalize from your list. I came up with Supportive Relationships, Work, Exercise, and Imagination. What does my list tell me about hope and me? What does your list tell you about hope and you? Finally, there is “hope” as a verb, as in “I hope.” What would that mean?
About halfway through the book, Douglas Abrams reflected on his conversations with Jane Goodall--his effort to generalize from them and focus attention on the “active ingredients” found in Jane’s hope. “Jane’s stories affirmed that when we feel we can make a difference, and we’re given the means to do so, positive outcomes can happen that in turn allow hope to prevail” (p. 124).
Dick Conville is a university professor (ret.) and long-time resident of Hattiesburg. He can be reached at email@example.com.